The Blue Ink - Archie's Mega Man #13: The Great Robot Debate

"....Robots are not people. They are mechanically more perfect than we are, they have an astounding intellectual capacity, but they have no soul." -Carl Kapek, Rossum's Universal Robots "The happiest people I have known have been those who gave no concern about their souls, but did their uttermost to mitigate the miseries of others." -Elizabeth Cady Stanton

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Oh, wow. Does a machine have a soul? That's a loaded question if there ever was one. Right from the cover, you know this latest arc, "Spirit in the machine", is going to be absolutely dynamite. The last three arcs have been enjoyable, but this... if you're a nine year old kid picking up this comic, this is the kind of thing that shakes you out of your boots and gets you thinking.

When I was a kid, I always loved the big questions like these. I rarely found a satisfactory answer, but I still kept asking them. I suppose I'm still that way today: I observe and listen more than I speak. In real life, when I'm not humming, singing, or whistling (and yes, I wear sunglasses all the time), I'm usually quiet with my eyes and ears open. It's amazing what you learn just by observation.

Dr. Wily's latest scheme, which involved capturing Mega Man as his death warrior using a malware virus hidden in the Robot Master weapons data, has failed. We can thank Elec Man and the Sunshine Seven for that rescue. Never doubt the power of Elec Man.

It's time for us to put Dr. Wily away in the dark corner he's skulked off to after two and a half failures, so we can focus on the rest of the world. After all, he can't always be the villain. The stock of humanity creates too many magnificent bastards to ignore. And there's precedence for letting others hog the spotlight: Anyone remember Colonel Redips? Something tells me these Emerald Spears are going to make an appearance.

But first things first: The Robot Expo!

Why yes, Rock, it is quite a cool place. Just look at all those Metools! They're rolling in yellow helmets over there! It seems that Dr. Light and family (with Elec Man tagging along, because hey, it's Elec Man) are out and about in the real world at the Advanced Robotics Trade Show. A chance for all the mechanically minded individuals to get together, show off what they've been up to, and most importantly, sell their muy-chandise at jacked up prices. Aah, the good old convention tax. Why, I remember my first con... I spent $20 on two enormous fuzzy gaming dice. A d20 and a d4, because who doesn't like casting magic missile with something plush, but still big enough to spill over the DM's tea?

Naturally, Rock and Roll run off to gawk at all the latest and greatest gadget upgrades, leaving Dr. Light to ramble on like Ducky from NCIS while Elec Man stands by patiently for a few seconds before cutting in to silence the well-rounded robotologist's rant. And what does Light reward his stalwart presence with? He tells him to go sit in the Light Labs booth. Aw, that's cold, Doc. Don't go putting your best Robot Master on cash register duty!

Naturally, what happens when a young boy goes charging through a crowded festival/carnival/convention/ren faire? Well, he bumps into a princess (And then Leene's Bell rings!) In this case, the princess is one Kalinka Cossack, the daughter of the less famous robot miracle worker, Mikhail Sergeyevich (Sergei to his friends) Cossack. And look who they brought along! My favorite Robot Master over all the games, Pharaoh Man!

Naturally, Dr. Cossack can't help but wonder aloud how Dr. Light's waistline has expanded. How did that happen, he asks? We all know what happened! Kentucky Fried Chicken happened!

But putting the jokes about Dr. Light's weight aside, you know what this is. If we were reading a murder mystery, this would be the part in the story where all the people would get together in the parlor, sip dry red wine and cognacs and introduce themselves. Well, we have the accomplished gentleman, the young up and coming businessman, the eager young couple and the brooding butler with Pharaoh Man around... what we need here to complete the archetype is the femme fatale, the svelte debutante southern belle! We need...

Ah, she'll work. Meet Noele Lalinde, strangely purple-haired woman who is an old acquaintance of Cossack and Light... and presumably, Wily. They were students together, apparently. There's no mistaking the look of nervous affection on the part of Light towards our indigo girl, but Lalinde seems less starstruck. Aw, nuts. Don't tell me that Light was put into the friend zone. No wonder he always says that Rock and Roll are his children!

Dr. Lalinde introduces us to her own creation, Quake Woman. Original Character Alert! Light is confused by her rather emotionless appearance. Even Pharaoh Man was more approachable than this robot girl, and he's just a fraggin' Robot Master! We're led to assume by her dialogue that Lalinde altered her somehow in the early stages of development, and presumably to be less human in demeanor. All I know is it looks like somebody dropped a Quaalude into her E-Can while she wasn't looking. And what's this business in the Amazon?

Wavy lines....

We're taken to the depths of the Amazon Rainforest (wow, it's still around?), where Dr. Wily is hacking and slashing his way through undergrowth with a machete. His destination? The ancient Lanfront Ruins, which supposedly emanate an EM field that disables electronics gear, and is in an area cordoned off by the United Nations. Well, if it was really cordoned off, how did Wily make his way there in a jeep? Another question: Why is Wily driving a jeep at all? Did he abandon his flying saucers? Well, we get a second "Meanwhile back at the ranch" moment later on in this issue, but since Wily isn't the focus, let's just spend a little time with him and then get back to the fun.

Wily stumbles into the heart of the Lanfront Ruins by a few failed detect trap checks, and discovers the jackpot: That big, black orb thing. Well, this doesn't look good. But, since it'll take him a while to get moving, let's go ahead and press on. As the Red Ranger used to say after Zordon's pep talks, "back into action!"

It seems that an anti-robot terrorist group, the Emerald Spears, has managed to infiltrate the robot expo. Their leader seems more of an idealist in how he talks and how he holds himself: His name is Harvey, Harvey Greenleaf. Fitting, for a new-age Luddite. His right-hand man, that angry eye-patch wearing loony who seems awfully gal-darned trigger happy, is called Alexander. Though he prefers Xander, presumably because he got too much of a kick over Vin Diesel's performance in XXX. Hm. I had a college roommate named Alexander. He also preferred to be called Xander. And yes, he was as much of a loony as this guy was.

Leaving the Emerald Spears to their own devices, we rejoin Dr. Light, Dr. Cossack, and Dr. Lalinde at the center stage of the expo, where a debate over the pros and cons of "advanced A.I. research" is about to take place. In the corner arguing for its development is our favorite 8-piece bucket eating maniac, Doc Light. Speaking as the Devil's Advocate against the issue is Lalinde, while Cossack does the moderation. I suspect that this debate will be a touch more civil than what we usually get treated to on live television.

And there's the WHAMMY! YES! This is the kind of dialogue where Light really takes off and lights up his afterburners. Never mess with this man over the virtues of emotions in robots, or in building connections with them. Lalinde favors keeping robots more machine than man, making them emotionless and detached so that no true bond can be forged. Light argues the opposite point: he built his robots with emotions, and he sees them as his kids. Lalinde counterpunches: When Wily captured his Robot Masters for his own wicked ends, did those emotional ties make it harder for Light to manage an effective counter against his former partner's machinations?

And all the while that Lalinde is arguing for more emotionless robots, Rock is sitting there and glancing past Rush with an all too human look of appraisal at Quake Woman. Just as Light reaches for his shiv and starts to stab Lalinde with Quake Woman's current non-emotional build to accuse her of wielding a tainted argument, we're torn out of this fascinating back and forth by the sudden intercession of the Emerald Spears.

With Harvey Greenleaf looking on over the center stage's big screen, his troopers rush in with their bzzrrrt discharge pistols and start booting the crowd out... but wielding the Second Law of Robotics, manage to confine every robot in the building so they can't escape.

Elec Man makes a point for the audience: It sucks being good. Bound by Asimovian heuristics, as all Mega Man robots not hacked by Wily are, Elec Man can't fight back against these thugs, he can't stop them, he can't do squat except sit there and wonder if he'd be better off with Wily's reprogramming still somewhat intact. At least then he could do something. Pharaoh Man, acting as the untested voice of reason, tells him to sit on it and wait it out for now. Well, I'm glad you can still feel that way, Mr. Headdress. Maybe you'll feel differently after your own robot rebellion.

We're left off with the stage set for a coup. The three doctors not on the FBI's most wanted list are all now hostages of the Emerald Spears, along with every robot in the facility. The only ones to escape capture so far are Rock, Rush, and Roll... who is tagging along with Kalinka Cossack and hunkered down out of sight.

As X will say in his own century during the Repliforce incident, "time to get serious!"

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Let's have a talk about alignments. If you type "alignments" into a Google Image Search, you'll find gads upon gads of character-driven examples of the nine alignments typified in Role Playing Games, from Lawful to Chaotic and Good to Evil. By virtue of the Laws of Robotics, Elec Man and almost everyone else ends up being stuck in the Lawful Good category. They can't act against human evils because they 1) can't harm humans, 2) can't disobey orders given by humans, and 3) can't suicide themselves in a desperate bid to end the standoff.

Asimov later postulated a Fourth, or "Zeroth Law" of robotics which stated that for the good of humanity, robots developed enough might be able to break all the Laws if it meant preserving humanity as a whole. Strangely enough, the critically panned film I, Robot which had little in common with the book that it took its name from, approached the downsides of the Zeroth Law: That eventually, robots would subjugate humanity under strict martial law in order to keep them from destroying themselves. There was an older movie where a computer did this, too, though the name escapes me at the moment. Damn my spotty memory!

The point of this alignment and Laws of Robotics spinoff is this: How do robots adapt to surroundings populated by humans, and what is the best path to take in order to keep the peace? Do robots have souls? Can a robot be said to have the same aspect of life that humans possess, and some might argue, does it even matter? These are questions I've been asking myself for years. I even did a semester-ending book report on Asimov, his take on humanity, and what the implications of robots in general society might be. And then I wrote a pretty chunky thing examining the issue in greater detail.

Science fiction is rife with examples that the general public should make itself aware of. Star Trek: The Next Generation is of course full of nuggets thanks to Lieutenant Commander Data and his aberrant brother, Lore. Data eventually is declared a person with rights in one episode. He creates a daughter android named Lal which eventually dies, and he takes her memories into himself. He gets an emotion chip from his father, after a roundabout course through the erratic Lore. He fights against his own pseudo-Asimovian heuristics, almost killing a man after determining the psychopath would never stop harming others.

Does Data have the same aspect of life that the humans in his existence do? The show's writers and actors would indicate so. He even gets resurrected through B-4 after Star Trek: Nemesis and commands his own ship in the Star Trek MMORPG. 

Then there's Johnny Five, from Short Circuit. Johnny Five is alive, right? Unlike Data, who grows into his individuality, J-5 has it from the get-go as soon as that freak lightning storm/power overload frags his circuits into a unique pattern which establishes artificial intelligence. Does Johnny Five have a soul?

I'm pretty sure Bender from Futurama doesn't have a soul at this point: He probably hocked it to the robot devil once or twice, but Bender's a more humorous example of robots beyond the realm of Asimov. And don't get me started on the mindjob that is Blade Runner. You think the movie was nuts, try reading the books. Yeah, I said books. More than one. I'm sure there are plenty of other examples at this point, but I have to keep the reviews for The Blue Ink somewhat brief for sanity's sake.

Light, our eternal optimist, is a father figure. He honestly believes in a future where robots and humans can work side by side, live side by side, in peace. He's believed in it for years, and is on record in Issue 1 saying much the same at his original press conference. In his perception, a Terminator-styled universe is unrealistic and impossible. We, however, know better. We know that anything is possible. After all, is Mega Man any more unrealistic than any other science fiction story, TV series, or movie where robots take a leading role? Not hardly.

Light argues in favor of giving robots emotions: Of giving them human cues, human characteristics. The belief that inspires this course of action is simple: If we make robots more like us, then they will be inclined to be friendly to us. In other words, we build robots to have a positive effect on the world and our species, rather than a destructive, or negative one.

This concept, known as FAI, or Friendly Artificial Intelligence, was forwarded by Eliezer Yudkowsky. I referred to it in Guiding Rainbow's Light, because at their heart, the Asimovian Laws are never enough. There must be some unconscious and intrinsic familiarity built in. Emotions in a robot, a more human-like robot, is a concept we've taken for granted throughout the comic so far. Rock is forever cheerful and chipper when he's not running on robot adrenaline and combat rage. Roll is always nagging her brother and Dr. Light about one thing or the other, but is always doing her best to chip in and help. Even Pharaoh Man and the Light Labs Robot Masters had emotional qualities to them, to say nothing of Wily's Series 2 chugalugs.

But Quake Woman is a jarring break from the pattern, something that clashes against everything we've seen so far. It's clear that something changed in Lalinde to alter her creation into a drone, and we'll likely learn what in the coming issues. For now though, picture her blank stare and empty, "soulless" eyes as an image of what might have been, were Light a different man.

A strong and far-reaching ideal in the fan community is that somehow, the emotions, the humanity that Mega Man and a few select other advanced robots take on during the original series allow them to supersede their programming, the Laws of Robotics, and even physical limitations. Think of Mega Man 7. In the American version, as Mega Man points his Buster at Wily, he screams, "Die, Wily!" And yet he says no such thing in the Japanese version.

I look at both as variations on a theme, slightly alternate events connected through resonant realities, and the image of what's possible is there, plain as day. In that moment, whatever was running through Mega Man's processors, it caused him to jump, temporarily, to a new paradigm of robotic potential and thought. His emotions in the comic can cause him to be just as aberrant: When he fights, a separate personality takes over. That separate personality is the key, because that's the side of him that's growing. The key to what, you ask?

To X. To robots not limited by the Laws of Robotics. To Reploids. Imagine if Elec Man were standing there in that robot expo, and the Emerald Spears rushed in with guns pointed, threatening humans and putting the place on lockdown. Imagine if he was operating with a Reploid's mind. Would he hesitate? Would he listen to Pharaoh Man? Or would he attack, go on the rampage, and subdue the Emerald Spears to protect the civilians? And what would happen if one of the terrorists were to die in the process? Perhaps there is some credence to Lalinde's notion of keeping robots emotionless, after all.

I for one, though, cling to Light's beliefs, not because I'm heedless of the outcome, but because I prefer his model of adaptation to any other that exists. Robots are coming, don't doubt that. If we subjugate them, if we make them into the new slave population, if we abuse them, then we are sealing our own fate. Perhaps they won't be limited to corporeal form. Perhaps A.I.s like Cortana from Halo are the more likely outcome, rather than metallic humanoids like robots and Reploids.

Whatever will occur though, be they made of silicon and steel or electrical impulses and terabytes of memory and processing power, I hold to the notions of FAI, the Asimovian heuristics, and something else: Education and friendship. They may be more advanced than us, but they will be of us, and so long as we keep that in mind... that we are the ones who created them, that we have a responsibility to them to make them a part of our lives, our "families", our existence... then perhaps the world will really be the place that Light foresees. The place that Inafune and all the others who ever worked on the deeper aspects of the story in all the games prophesied.

"A world where humans and robots lived together in peace. That was my dream." -Dr. Thomas Light

For the Blue Ink.

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When he isn't writing "The Blue Ink" reviews for The Mega Man Network, Erico (The Super Bard) spends his days keeping track of the "Legacy of Metal" fanon, dabbling in cooking and tea-brewing, and exploring the human condition from his Iowa stomping grounds.

The views expressed here reflect the views of the authors alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Mega Man Network.